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Canadian luminaries embedded in King St.

Guess Who, Ostanek, Atwood among those who make Walk of Fame

Source: Toronto Star
Date: June 1, 2001
Author: Canadian Press

In what has become symbolic of the most Canadian of contradictions, 13 more accomplished artists and athletes are being inducted into Canada's four-year-old Walk of Fame.

Officially, the Walk is a stretch of pavement along King Street in Toronto's theatre district, where the names are ceremoniously unveiled in designer granite sidewalk slabs replete with a stylized maple leaf.

The annual process is viewed by many as a contradiction because we tend not to embrace celebrity with the same fervour as our American neighbours.

''We don't pay homage enough, really, in this country,'' says singer Jann Arden, one of the co-hosts of the 2001 ceremony. ''You wonder why we don't have a star system.''

Nevertheless, nine of this year's 13 inductees agreed to be present for the Friday night unveiling and gala.

The baker's dozen includes sports heroes Jean Beliveau, Kurt Browning, Ferguson Jenkins and the late Harry Jerome (represented by his daughter Deborah), Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak, legendary rock band The Guess Who, actor Leslie Nielsen, the polka king himself, Walter Ostanek and ballerina Veronica Tennant.

Officials say author Margaret Atwood, opera singer Teresa Stratas and Quebec filmmaker Robert Lepage had unavoidable engagements in Europe while director Ivan Reitman had to attend a film premiere in Hollywood.

For each of them, mini-ceremonies will be held over the summer and fall, along with one for singer Joni Mitchell, who couldn't attend last year's event. Telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who died in 1922, is also getting a special recognition.

Arden says that what's great about the Walk of Fame is that it recognizes an artist's lifetime body of work, not someone who currently enjoys mass appeal.

''It's not about let's put a star in for Shania Twain - you know, cheer and `whoo-whoo, she's done so much.' Well, she hasn't really. These are people who have spent their lifetimes in art.''

Nielsen, too, liked the idea that it's not a popularity contest.

''I had nothing to do with it. Paramount studios did not call up and say `How much does it cost? We'll pay it!' ''

When reminded that unlike Hollywood, too, there wouldn't be hookers or drug dealers pacing over his slab, the star of the Naked Gun comedies quipped: ''Well I can bring in a few. I did police work, you know?''

Businessman Peter Soumalias, founder and chairman of the Walk organization, also likes to stress the differences with the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce charges celebrities up to $1,500 (U.S.) for the honour, usually part of a promotional campaign to plug a new film or record.

Soumalias says here the public input to the process is growing each year. Eventually, plans call for ordinary Canadians to pick all the finalists from a committee-chosen list of 25 to 50 names.

''The public can make the selections, they're a lot smarter than we are,'' Soumalias says, adding that the pre-selection process might still be necessary so that those contenders who may not be at the ''top of mind'' - a Lorne Greene, say - will get serious consideration.

Guess Who drummer Gary Peterson said it means Canada has finally accepted them.

''Instead of saying they're fat, they're tired, they're bald, they accepted us as their Eagles or Beatles. They finally said `We are proud that you are Canadians.' That's what this is about.''

Tennant said it meant you were extraordinary.

''There's a little electrical crackle about this. It really has tapped into how I felt as a child, dreaming of the future. Not that I ever thought this would happen, but I certainly believed very strongly when I was a young child that I needed to work in theatre ... I didn't want to be an ordinary person.''

The humblest inductee of all was perhaps St. Catharines, Ont., native Ostanek. He said he was very surprised to get a letter asking if he would be interested.

''Naturally I got in touch with them immediately. I didn't even reverse the charges!''

This year's 13 brings to 51 the total number of Canadians now on the Walk.